Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April Playlist: Stick it in Your Arm

We've (almost) reached the end of April, and it's been a month of freshness and newness and sunshine all around. Here are 10 of the tracks that have soundtracked the last 30 days or so for me.

My March playlist can be found here.

1. Rainbow Road - Cloud
(from Zen Summer)
We'll start, perversely enough, with the closing track from Cloud's new album (which I reviewed earlier this week). I don't know for sure that this song's title is a Mario Kart reference, but I fervently hope it is.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: Zen Summer by Cloud

The title of Cloud's second LP gives us a pretty big clue as to its content. If Comfort Songs was an autumn album (and it was - the first track was literally called Cars & It's Autumn), then Zen Summer is one for the warmer months.

This expansive, mostly gapless album has a hazy, psychedelic sound that, while not a complete departure from what we heard on Comfort Songs, certainly feels a lot brighter and more optimistic than what preceded it. Tyler Taormina is sounding less anxious these days; Comfort Songs, as I mentioned back in early 2014, dealt primarily in harsh truths, whereas Zen Summer gently reminds us that today is big and beautiful and ours for the taking. Ironically, it's actually far more comforting than its misleadingly-named predecessor.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Small Town Heroes: Fun with Feminism

Small Town Heroes by Hurray for the Riff Raff is an album that I bought last year after reading about it in Uncut magazine. This week, while revisiting Small Town Heroes and its twelve terrific country-folky cuts, I happened upon the Twitter account of Alynda Segarra, the woman behind Hurray for the Riff Raff:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Songs About Albums: Release Date & Teaser Track

"Hey, Joel! Remember that Songs About Albums compilation you announced a little while back? What's going on with that? Is it still happening?"

Indeed it is, chum. In fact, it even has a release date:

Saturday 13 June, 2015

Mark that day in your diary, because that's when Songs About Albums: Volume 1 will officially be made available for download - FREE download, mind you - from Bandcamp and Soundcloud. It will also be the 45th birthday of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, which is a cool coincidence (Weezer's debut album is the subject of Sweet Benfica's contribution to this project).

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Non-Lexical Cameras

I've spent a lot of time listening to The Hidden Cameras since I shared my first impressions of AWOO two summers ago. That album has since been joined in my library by Mississauga Goddam, AGE, The Smell of Our Own, and Origin:Orphan, which means that I am now familiar with five sixths of the band's entire discography.

Each of these albums is its own unique beast, but I have noticed some things that are common to all of them. For one thing, Joel Gibb loves talking about sexual taboos (Smell of Our Own closer The Man That I Am With My Man is perhaps the ultimate example of that), but the subject that I'd like to talk about today isn't so much a running theme as a recurring musical device.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Abstract Heart

"Our last record was written as an escape from the situations we were dealing with at the time. But there is only so long you can suppress reality." - Kathryn Pepper, 2015

Zervas & Pepper seem to be pitching Abstract Heart as something of a comedown album. If Lifebringer was a dream of coasts, canyons, and Americana, its follow-up is the life to which you return upon waking. It's an album of troubles and sadness and terror, and of attempting to deal with those problems in the best way possible.

Having said that, we're still in much the same musical territory as we were back in 2013. Z&P have brought a few new tricks back from their recent trip to India (most audible on closing track Celestial Friend), but overall, they're still emulating their American heroes: David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, and so forth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Brand Old

Hey everybody, Brand New are back! They've just released a new song for the first time since 2009, and while nothing has been confirmed yet, it doesn't seem too unreasonable to assume that Mene will eventually be followed by a new LP.

However, I haven't listened to that new song yet, and I'm not here today to talk about Brand New's brand new album (which may or may not even be in the pipeline right now). I'm here to talk about their old albums, specifically Your Favorite Weapon and Déjà Entendu.

These two records have been on my rack for years, and the thing that continues to amaze me is how much they made of the genres they respectively tackled.

Allow me to explain...

Monday, April 13, 2015

3 Albums for Springtime

As you may have noticed, spring is here! The sun is out, the jumpers are off, and there's been a noticeable change in the kind of music I've been listening to lately. Here are three albums that never fail to make it feel like springtime:

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
If I associate an album with a particular time of year then, more often than not, it will be the time of year at which I originally bought that album. I picked up CYHSY's self-titled debut in March 2007, and since then, it's always reminded me of the clocks going forward and the sun coming out. Happily, it still sounds as fresh and as bonkers now as it did eight year (eight years!) ago.

Springiest Track: The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth

"How can I keep me from moving? Now, I need a change of scenery"

Friday, April 10, 2015

Everything's Getting Important

Released in 2011, Everything's Getting Older - a collaboration between Scottish jazzman Bill Wells and Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffat - was a rather surprising listen. Not simply because it mixed Moffat's gruff storytelling with something new (Wells's rich, lovely jazz licks), but because its grotesquely detailed cover gave absolutely no indication of how comforting the songs underneath ultimately were. Yes, there were sobering ruminations on our slow, inexhorable march towards the grave (The Copper Top), but Moffat made sure to remind us that life was nevertheless worth living. Few songs, for example, make me feel as happy and at ease as The Greatest Story Ever Told:

"Look after yer teeth"

In fact, I frequently reach for Everything's Getting Older at bedtime - I find that it always sends me into a peaceful, untroubled sleep, which is no mean feat for an album about ageing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Now that Strangers to Ourselves - Modest Mouse's long-awaited sixth album - has been out for a good few weeks, I think it's time I looked back at my predictions (made back in December, when the album was first announced) to see how well I did. Can I predict the musical future, or do I need to get my crystal ball looked at? Let's find out...

Monday, April 6, 2015

Another Rattle Through My Inbox

Sometimes, people send me their music. I'm very grateful for this - after all, free music! - and if I think an email looks particularly promising, I make a point of flagging it to ensure that it doesn't get buried under a bunch of other emails and forgotten about.

Well, those little red flags were really starting to stack up, and so I thought it might be time for another whistle-stop tour through some of the most interesting-looking items that have been emailed to me in recent weeks. The original 'Rattle Through My Inbox' blog is here.

The Hangman's Door by Moses Luster and the Hollywood Lights
(Album, Out Now)

This album wields an odd blend of old-timey blues and heavy synths, and while the latter element is utilised less and less as the tracks tick by, it still gives the whole thing a slightly unusual feel. Moses Luster has a fantastic voice - kind of like an evangelical Guy McKnight - and female backing vocals are employed to good effect on several tracks, putting one in mind of Leonard Cohen classics like Tower of Song and Ain't No Cure for Love.

That being said, most of  these songs are too generic - lyrically speaking - to truly merit comparison with Cohen and other obvious inspirations like Nick Cave. The title track, heavy in sound and thick with desperation, is my personal highlight, but even this song lacks the rich characterisation and psychedelic poetry with which this type of music pairs best. If you're going to drop names like Waits and Bukowski in your PR emails then you need to deliver some truly singular songwriting, and while The Hangman's Door is a very cool listen, Swordfishtrombones it ain't.

For fans of: Nick Cave, as mentioned; Mr Luster has Cave's bluesy gothic sound down pat, although his lyrics still have quite a long way to go. None of these songs are exactly Higgs Boson Blues.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Break-Up Albums Lied to Me

First, some news: I recently broke up with Sarah, my girlfriend of five years. There was no massive, explosive argument, no unforgivable betrayal from which the relationship couldn't possibly recover; we just agreed that things had run their course and that, while it had been a wonderful experience for both of us, it was time to call it a day.

Obviously, the last week or so has been somewhat stressful (breaking it to my parents was the hardest part), but I was also a little bit excited - believe it or not, this is the first and only break-up I've ever been through, and once things were set in stone (that is, once I'd changed my Facebook status from 'In a Relationship' to 'Single), I was perversely thrilled to finally have an excuse to listen to all of the horribly depressing break-up albums I've accrued over the last decade or so.

"Wait, is that R.E.M.'s Out of Time? Is this idiot trying to tell us that the album with Shiny Happy People on it is 'horribly depressing'?"

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10 Questions for Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting are on tour at the moment. Having recently left Australia, they're currently in the USA, and they'll be playing in Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic before the end of May. Oh, and they've also got a thirteen-date jaunt around the UK and Ireland booked somewhere in the middle of all that.

This mammoth world tour is being undertaken in support of The Race for Space, PSB's second LP and my personal album of the moment. In fact, I've been so enjoying The Race for Space that I recently jotted down some questions about it and emailed them to the band's management in the vague hope that I might get a response.

And, well, I'm thrilled to announce that J. Willgoose Esq. (the man behind Public Service Broadcasting) was generous enough to answer those questions. Here's what he had to say:

Photo by Paul Hudson

The Race for Space, as an album, is far more thematically unified than Inform-Educate-Entertain. What drove you to write a concept album this time around?

I think the first record was a concept album too, it's just that the concept was basically us. And before that we had The War Room EP, which was obviously conceptual too, and which actually post-dated a lot of the material on the album even though it was released before I-E-E. I really enjoyed that way of working and felt it made the record hang together a lot better and gave it a stronger emotional hook, so I was keen to work that way again.